Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Silver Horde (1930)

THE SILVER HORDE is an early talkie about the salmon industry. The film is notable chiefly for interesting location filming in Ketchikan, Alaska, as well as for being the first onscreen pairing of Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur, who would go on to costar in ADVENTURE IN MANHATTAN and the classic THE MORE THE MERRIER.

The film is reminiscent of CARNIVAL BOAT, another early sound film which had interesting location shooting about the logging industry, but which was also somewhat primitively acted. (It's fascinating that impeccably polished sound pictures like TROUBLE IN PARADISE and LOVE ME TONIGHT were made the same year as the old-fashioned CARNIVAL BOAT, which one could easily envision being a silent movie.) In THE SILVER HORDE, regular title cards serve as a reminder that "talking pictures" were still a fairly new thing.

While Joel McCrea and Evelyn Brent (playing a lady of ill repute who helps McCrea start a salmon fishery) act in an understated, modern style, Gavin Gordon, who plays the villain of the piece, has a habit of rolling his eyes at the end of threatening speeches; if his mustache were any bigger, he'd be twirling it. His style would be more suited for the silents, where exaggerated actions helped to convey the story.

McCrea's character is not particularly well developed, other than demonstrating he's a determined young man, but McCrea displays the likeability that would lead to movie stardom. He's always been one of my favorites. Brent, as a tough, confident businesswoman, has the most interesting character in the film; this being a pre-Code movie, her "camp follower" has the chance to win the hero without repercussions for her past sins.

Jean Arthur was still a few years away from being a delightful, beloved comedienne; here she is badly made up (those eyebrows!) and photographed. She plays McCrea's fiancee, who is revealed to be a rather shrewish type. Arthur fans will want to see this film if only to understand how far her career traveled from its earliest days.

Louis Wolheim, playing Evelyn Brent's dim-witted righthand man, is a tiresome thug who slows down every scene he's in. In contrast, former silent actress Blanche Sweet brings some interest to the proceedings as Brent's friend.

An almost documentary-style sequence showing the process from salmon trapping to canning is very interesting, particularly for the insight into the kinds of machinery available in the film's time period.

THE SILVER HORDE was directed by George Archainbaud. It runs 75 minutes.

THE SILVER HORDE is available on DVD and video. It is also available on TCM. The TCM print wasn't a very sharp picture, but I suspect, given the film's age, that their print might be as good as it gets.

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